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Writing Tips

Denise Chong on bringing order to the chaos

The renowned author, Member of the Order of Canada and juror for the 2014 Creative Nonfiction Prize explains the great powers of creative nonfiction: to make sense of the jumble of life and to situate us in the wider world.

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To me, the power of nonfiction writing lies in a sense of the writer having brought a kind of order to the chaos of everyday life. The writer has changed the way—small or large—in which, I, the reader, look at the world and my place in it. But, you argue, what of stories that are intensely personal? Or, in particular, instances where the examination of a life is, seemingly, that of a miniaturist? Can that way of looking at nonfiction still apply? Yes, if the personal is moored to and set in its social context, against the times and the tumult or weight of history. Even where the protagonist has no knowledge of such, their actions against that backdrop reveal all the more the foibles and strengths of temperament; the personal is heightened when set against the wider world."


Denise Chong is an award-winning, internationally published author whose most recent work is Lives of the Family. Her family memoir, The Concubine’s Children, first published in 1994, will be reissued this year as a Penguin Modern Classic. In 2013, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Photo credit: Danielle Schaub

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